When LA-based experimental musician and sound designer, Katie Gately was close to finishing the follow-up to her 2016 debut Colour, her world was suddenly shattered. Her mother was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer that would prove terminal. Shortly before the diagnosis in the spring of 2018, Gately’s mother saw her daughter perform live for the first time. She loved a song that would develop as ‘Bracer’, the visceral panic attack lead single from Gately’s new album, Loom. “I got that feedback and I built the album from there,” Gately explains. The producer parked most of the ideas explored before her mother’s diagnosis, finding herself writing intuitively about the multifaceted emotions experienced while dealing with a colossal uprooting.
“I haven’t had to experience a lot of grief, which is fortunate, but I wasn’t aware that there was a lot of anger that naturally comes with it,” Gately continues over the phone. “Luckily, I didn’t want to throw that anger at people. I wanted to throw it at sound. A ‘fuck you’ to cancer. I think that’s exactly what my mother would have done.”
Gately speaks of being ‘hyperactive’ while looking after her mother in the family’s hometown of Brooklyn, where she would use the small hours to work on Loom. “I got hypervigilant – I couldn’t sleep,” she says. “I was almost in a flow state, like a bad flow state.” The album became her response to her mother’s illness, both musically and lyrically. “Every song is in a minor key, quite funereal,” Gately adds, as if to explain how reality informed the music. “On the other hand, there’s an energy: there’s percussive elements and it’s faster in some parts, slower in others. And lyrically, I really wanted to acknowledge the kaleidoscope of things you feel when you’re having this kind of experience.”
“I feel like music tells me what I’m feeling before I know how I’m feeling.”
She recalls pinballing in panic. “I got very attentive to the way my mother looked, like, ‘uh-oh, I think something bad is about to happen,’ and then there was this other side where I was like, ‘Fuck this; fuck cancer.’ But there was also this part where I wanted to understand it: ‘what is this disease, how does it work?’ All of those voices, feelings and memories ended up in the music, she says, such as super processed audio from her parents’ wedding.
Loom is a different beast from Gately’s maximalist debut, Colour; the latter is a sensory overload stuffed with inventive field recordings and bold mutations of sound. On Loom, Gately’s voice is positioned front and centre. Sonically speaking, it’s more occupied by drone and deeply ruminative textures. Her wildly creative sampling remains – from bull whips to machine guns – but their dynamics are softer in the mix and are better suited for nighttime listening (perhaps resultant of Gately’s nocturnal writing routine).
“I feel like music tells me what I’m feeling before I know how I’m feeling,” she says, touching on the process behind creating songs such as ‘Allay’. The album track is a haunting cacophony of overlapping choral vocals, gongs and actual earthquake recordings – representative of the thing that shook her world – and is sung from the perspective of her mother’s disease. “That idea just came very naturally. It’s true that cancer will come for you and you won’t get better sometimes,” Gately says. There’s an acknowledgement that composing helped her face and cope with the ordeal.
“On this record, I just sort of intuited what to do,” she continues. “I wouldn’t want to go through the grief process again, but I’m hoping that something about opening up in a big way emotionally will help my future work. I think I feel, oddly, more confident in trusting myself now. All I’ve really had and trusted is my ear. The way I put things together, I feel it’s pre-lingual. Emotions are bumping into each other and I’m just assessing whether or not they feel right.”
Ultimately, Gately has made something expressive, beautiful and necessary in Loom. The record may be dedicated to her mother, but there’s ample space for others to seek solace. “I feel dorky saying this, but the primary thing that motivates me is exactly what I get from other people’s music, which is that it makes me feel less alone.”
Photo by Steve Gullick.